The call for help came in the form of a text message and a tweet which are words I never thought I’d type. My old and dear friend RK was in trouble and needed help. Indeed, his message was simply the word “Help” with the photo above. It appears a new “whiskey” bar had opened a couple of blocks from his home. Thankfully the “martini” bar fad has passed and whiskey is on the rise but I digress. As a good drinker, RK had immediately sauntered down to the new whiskey-themed joint and bellied up to the bar. But as often happens, he was confronted with a plethora of choices. Which whiskey to order? How do I avoid making a mistake here. Thankfully he came to the source, he came to BourbonAndVinyl.
Now I should probably take a step back for second to explain my view on friendship. I learned at an early age how valuable friends are. As a young, young man, I had forsaken all my friends for that oldest of reasons… love. Or, what I thought was love in my romantic, slightly drunken, immature heart. I had packed up all my stuff and took that leap of faith and moved to another city for a chick. After taking the leap, lets just say I landed hard when there was nothing to catch me. It was a lifetime ago, bygones and long forgotten… Embarrassed and chastened, I reached out to my friends, and to my surprise, all was forgiven. The prodigal was welcomed back to the fold with open arms. It dawned on me, that friends, true friends are some of the most important relationships a man can have. Dudes to drink and swear and talk a little treason with are invaluable. Friendship is sacred.
So when RK’s cry for help came to me, I took it very seriously. RK and I have a long history of tearing around Chicago. I seem to have a vague memory of drinking Hennessey with him and a homeless guy outside a Walgreens, but those records are mostly sealed. We’ve matured since then. I would do anything for RK… he’s one of those pals who could call in the middle of the night and I’d jump in my car with a weapon and $1000 bail money, no questions asked. And I must admit, RK is not the only one who has asked me about what bourbon to choose and what occasion to drink them. Luckily my friend Pest lives in Kentucky and took me out on the Bourbon Trail so I have cursory knowledge. What I’m about to tell you here is personal choice more than expertise. I’ve spent a lifetime drinking and frankly I don’t think there is anything better than whiskey.
My general rule – I always choose bourbon over whiskey if a good bourbon is available. Remember folks, all bourbons are whiskeys but not all whiskeys are bourbon. To be bourbon you have to have the right combination of grains, specifically a corn-mash and while it can actually be distilled anywhere, in my opinion it needs to come from Kentucky where the water is rich in minerals. It’s no coincidence they raise thoroughbred horses in Kentucky. Strong water = strong bones… and strong bourbon.
In the absence of bourbon, when it comes to American whiskeys, the one that is my go to is Gentlemen Jack, Jack Daniels’ premium whiskey. Until I discovered my love of bourbon this was my go to. I used to drink it neat because when I put ice in it, it goes down like coca-cola on a warm summer day. The next thing you know you’ll be trying to take your pants off over your head.
I tend to shy away from Canadian whiskeys because they’re sweeter. I like Canadian beer more than their whiskey. Sorry Canadians. If you’re looking to mix coke with your whiskey, and why the fuck would you do that, Canadian is probably where you go.
I hate Scotch. My apologies to my readers in the UK. Scotch tastes like whiskey gone bad. I know I’ll take a rash of shit on this. My buddy Doug has been trying to get me to drink a “good Scotch” for years but in my opinion, no such thing exists.
I love Rye as well when I want to mix it up. I actually like Bulleit Rye more than their bourbon. Rye has a more peppery finish to it. Its to bourbon what tabasco is to ketchup in my mind. I love the after taste of rye. Even in the presence of bourbon I will sometimes get a good Rye before dinner. I tend to lean on bourbon post eating.
I am very, very fond of Jameson if you’re going to with an Irish whiskey. I haven’t tried Tullamore Dew yet, but I am hearing great things about it. I tend to drink Irish whiskey on that most sacred of religious holidays, St Patrick’s Day. If I’m going to drink all day, I like a good Irish whiskey.
But again, at heart I’m a bourbon man. I drink it neat, or if I’m taking it slow I add ice. I never add mixer, to do so is blasphemy in my eyes. I don’t even add water. When confronted with a long list of bourbons, like the one photographed below, here’s my thoughts. I sorted this list based on cost:
Pappy Van Winkle: While this is not on the list above, I feel I must address Pappy Van Winkle. Yes, the rumors are true, it’s outstanding bourbon. My friend Arkansas Joel, who led me to my only shot of Pappy always warns though, anything under 20 years old isn’t worth the money. I tend to only drink Pappy when someone else is paying for it because, well, I’m poor.
Blanton’s: Blanton’s is as smooth as the ass of a high school cheerleader. It’s truly a wonderful bourbon. Again, from a cost perspective, Blanton’s is on the high end. I tend to drink it on special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries or after seeing the Stones in concert.
Woodford Reserve: Woodford is a less expensive, generally, than Blanton’s. It’s my go to bourbon. It’s what I drink when I’m sitting on my roof deck, watching the moon rise and contemplating life’s deep mysteries, which are usually something like, “when will Springsteen release a new LP.” I like Woodford so much I hide the bottle during parties so I don’t have to share it with anybody.
Maker’s Mark: I’ve been drinking Maker’s since right out of college. It’s in the middle of the price spectrum and I think it’s a great price performer. It’s a quality bourbon at an affordable price. Before going on the bourbon trail, Maker’s was my bourbon of choice. Typically I drink Maker’s now when I’m celebrating something and they don’t have Woodford. I also tend to use Maker’s as my “5 o’clock angel,” my end of day drink.
Buffalo Trace: For the life of me, I don’t know why they don’t charge more for Buffalo Trace. It’s a top notch Kentucky whiskey at a great price. I like to take a bottle of Buffalo Trace with me if I’m going to a football game and I’m going to be drinking for a couple hours prior, tailgating. And then maybe drinking for a few hours post game tailgating. Or, if I can get away with it, smuggling it into the game… I see a pattern. From a price performer, Buffalo Trace is your winner.
I generally avoid anything from the Jim Beam family… You have to draw the line somewhere.
That’s my take on the menu folks… again, season to take. Sample as many bourbons and whiskeys as you can until you find your “go to.” The journey to the heart of what your cocktail is will be one of the funniest journeys you ever take.
And, as the famous toast goes, “May we never regret this….”
2 thoughts on “Bourbon 101: An Old Friend’s Cry For Help”
Mr. Bourbon and Vinyl, thank you for your accurate portrayal of my lifestyle. To me friends are like Bourbon…most mellow with time, are friendly, and the best ones are worth the investment. Thanks again Bourbon and Vinyl for your recommendations. I plan to try every bourbon on the menu…which will give me something to do for the next 200 or so days…
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I only hope to be able to join you on a few of those excursions… bourbon, so many bottles, so little time….